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Sardinia’s favourite oligarch

Oligarch central: a prize stretch of Sardinia’s coast

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Italian authorities have seized $250m worth of Russian-owned real estate in Sardinia, say Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli in The Washington Post. But it’s not proving straightforward. First, figuring out how to manage all that property is a major “headache”. Italian laws require the government to maintain the value of any asset it freezes, and plenty of these villas cost several hundred thousand dollars a year to run. Second, hundreds of Sardinians depend on Moscow’s super-rich for work. Now they’re out of a job. “We ended up relying fundamentally on one world,” says Mauro Pili, the island’s former governor. “Once you close the tap, there’s damage.”

Among those whose property has been seized is the metal and mining magnate Alisher Usmanov. But unlike most of the other Russian oligarchs who holidayed on the Italian island, the 68-year-old spent months in Sardinia every year, ingratiating himself with its people. He bought ambulances, sponsored the local football team and funded cultural activities. He was even made an honorary citizen in 2018, telling locals at the ceremony there was a “certain chemistry between my soul and this land”. And the Sardinians aren’t willing to swallow the West’s claims that Usmanov – who runs a pro-Kremlin newspaper and is known as one of Vladimir Putin’s “favourite oligarchs” – is enabling the war in Ukraine. Many of them hope Usmanov will return to the island; one coastal town, Arzachena, has refused to revoke his citizenship honours. For now, though, Usmanov remains “frozen out of paradise”.